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German for Beginners:
Aussprache - Pronunciation
(Part 2)

A German Pronunciation Guide
Diphthongs and Consonant Pairs

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German is a much more phonetically consistent language than English. This means that German words almost always sound the way they are spelled—with consistent sounds for any given spelling. (e.g., the German ei - as in nein - spelling is always sounded EYE, whereas German ie - as in Sie - always has the EEE sound.) No need to learn exceptions like English “i before e, except after c.” In German, the rare exceptions are usually foreign words from English, French, or other languages. Any student of German should learn the sounds associated with certain spellings as soon as possible. Knowing them, you will be able to correctly pronounce even German words you have never seen before!

Now that you know how to pronounce the letters of the alphabet in German, we'll advance to the next stage. First, let's talk about some terminology. It is helpful to know, for instance, what diphthongs and paired consonants are.

A diphthong (Greek di, two + phthongos, sound, voice) is a combination of two vowels that blend and are sounded together. Instead of being pronounced separately, the two letters have one sound or pronunciation. An example would be the au combination. The diphthong au in German always has the sound OW, as in English “ouch” (the "ou" being an English diphthong; the au is also part of the German word autsch, which is pronounced almost the same as “ouch” in English!) Obviously, this kind of information is very useful to know when you are trying to pronounce German. In the chart below, we present more examples of German diphthongs.

Grouped or Paired Consonants
While diphthongs are always vowel pairs, German also has many common grouped or paired consonants that have a consistent pronunciation as well. An example of this would be st, a very common combination of the consonants s and t, found in many German words. In standard German, the st combination at the beginning of a word is always pronounced like SCHT and not like the st found in English “stay” or “stone.” So a German word such as Stein (stone, rock) is pronounced SCHTINE, with an initial SCH-sound, as in “show.” You'll find more examples of paired consonants in the chart below.

AUDIO > RealAudio sound for this page!

Beispiele / Examples
ai / ei eye bei (at, near), das Ei (egg), der Mai (May)
au ow auch (also), das Auge (eye), aus (out of)
eu / äu oy Häuser (houses), Europa (Europe), neu (new)
ie eeh bieten (offer), nie (never), Sie (you)

Grouped Consonants
Beispiele / Examples
ck k dick (fat, thick), der Schock (shock)
ch >> After a, o, u and au, pronounced like the guttural ch in Scottish "loch" - das Buch (book), auch (also). Otherwise it is a palatal sound as in: mich (me), welche (which), wirklich (really). TIP: If no air is passing over your tongue when you say a ch-sound, you aren't saying it correctly. No true equivalent in English. - Although ch doesn't usually have a hard k sound, there are exceptions: Chor, Christoph, Chaos, Orchester, Wachs (wax)
pf pf Both letters are (quickly) pronounced as a combined puff-sound: das Pferd (horse), der Pfennig. If this is difficult for you, an f sound will work, but try to do it!
ph f das Alphabet, phonetisch - Some words formerly spelled with ph are now spelled with f: das Telefon, das Foto
qu kv die Qual (anguish, torture), die Quittung (receipt)
sch sh schön (pretty), die Schule (school) - The German sch combination is never split, whereas sh usually is (Grashalme, Gras/Halme; but die Show, a foreign word).
sp / st shp / sht At the start of a word, the s in sp/st has a sch sound as in English "show, she." sprechen (speak), stehen (stand)
th t das Theater (tay-AHTER), das Thema (TAY-muh), topic - Always sounds like a t (TAY). NEVER has the English th sound!
AUDIO > RealAudio sound for this page!

On the next page we'll offer more German pronunciation help, including some dangers to avoid!

NEXT > German Pronunciation Guide - Part 3

BACK > Das Alphabet

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ALSO SEE > Alphabet Exercises
   Practice using the alphabet to spell out words or abbreviations in German.

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